Local

Family Shares Common Bond Over Defibrillators

By Carol Cavazos, CBS 11 News
Three Dimensional (3 D Image Displays A Computerised Visualization Of A Human Heart

CBS DFW (con't)

Affordable Care Act Updates: CBSDFW.com/ACA

Health News & Information: CBSDFW.com/Health

KELLER (CBSDFW.COM) – A 12-year-old Keller Middle School student who, suffered a heart attack, has an internal defibrillator now. Doctors at Cook Children’s Medical Center implanted the device Monday morning.

Jack Pittman-Heglund suffered a heart attack at home October 11. His mother performed CPR on him. His family says that’s what saved his life. The boy’s father says Jack is doing just fine after this morning’s operation. He’s expected to leave the hospital Wednesday.

A Grand Prairie family of five knows all about the kind of surgery Jack had this morning. Four of them also have implanted defibrillators.

Matthew and Patrick Irvin were just five-years-old when they were implanted with internal defibrillators. Now 16, the twins say they hardly give it a second thought.

“It’s just become too much a part of my normal life. I just forget I have it,” Matthew Irvin said.

Sarah, their 17-year-old sister has one too. So does Becky, their 42-year-old mother. All of them were diagnosed with a rare condition that could cause a sudden heart attack.

“That’s genetics,” Becky Irvin said. “I passed it down to my children. Unfortunately all three of them got it. My mother passed it to me. Her father passed it to her,” Irvin said.

The defibrillators can regulate their hearts or shock them back into rhythm. Dr. Christopher Case, a Pediatric Cardiologist at Cook Children’s Medical Center says the device has a lead line which is placed either on top of the heart or inside through a vein to a chamber in the heart. “On the tip of this lead, it can actually count the electrical impulses of the heart,” Dr. Case said.

The devices have gotten smaller since the 1980’s. But big problems remain. “It can get infected. It’s so big it can actually erode from the skin. The lead can break and you have to change the lead. And one of the things you really don’t want to happen but really happens the most is sometimes this device will count wrong,” Dr. Case said.

That means it could deliver an electrical shock when it should not. The twins know what that’s like.

“It’s like getting kicked in the back, really,” Matthew said. “It’s kind of like getting electrocuted but not on your hand,” Patrick said.

Dan Irvin remembers holding one of the boys when the defibrillator gave off a charge. “If you’re touching your child when that defibrillator goes off, it’s going to hurt. You’re going to be electrocuted,” Irvin said. The shock knocked him to his knees.

The twins have replaced nine defibrillators between them because of broken lines and worn out batteries. “Now that the kids have gotten older, we haven’t had any problems,” Becky Irvin said.

The women haven’t had any trouble with theirs. Sarah Irvin said, “All my friends know I have a defibrillator. They think it’s cool. I have a cool scar. I have a “battle story.”

Though the family says they’ve had their share of problems with the devices, internal defibrillators far outweigh the risks.

“It’s a life saver,” Becky Irvin said.

The Irvins say they let everyone know they have defibrillators. That means schools, scouts, drill teams, camp counselors and the like – just in case anything goes wrong with the device.